I have lived in Michigan most of my life. I grew up in metro Detroit, moved back to a neighboring town after four years in Minnesota, and finally moved up to the U.P. (upper peninsula) last year. When I was growing up, my family spent summers camping near Mackinac and visiting the Island. School years were spent studying Michigan history and taking field trips to the Henry Ford Museum and the Morley Candy Factory. One year we even took a class trip to Lansing. I've been to many of Michigan's 'big' cities and have spent far too much time on I-75 and US-2. But this weekend I got to explore a completely new city, situated right on Lake Michigan: Charlevoix. (Say it with me: Shar-la-voy)
This weekend happened to be the start of Charlevoix's "Venetian Festival": a week-long event featuring live music, Aquapalooza (basically a big party on the boats in the harbor), sporting events, a farmer's market, activities for kids, a carnival, a parade...you get the idea. As a local to northern Michigan, my friend John told me about his experiences at the Venetian Festival in the past, and it sounded like fun. So yesterday around 10:00am, we headed down across the Mackinac Bridge to check it out. When I was growing up, we had something called the Peach Festival near my parents' house which sounded similar (minus the harbor). I went to the Peach Festival nearly every year, watching my three older siblings sweat in their marching band uniforms in the parade and grabbing as much candy as I could as it was thrown from the floats. For the adults, they had peach-flavored beer and cider, vendors sold snacks and trinkets, and kids of all ages enjoyed the carnival rides and face paintings. Despite the crowds and the heat, it was always a good time. So I will say, part of me wishes we would have gone to Charlevoix another day when there was more going on. Sunday afternoon didn't hold many activities aside from praise music later (around 7pm). Regardless, John was a fantastic guide and we found plenty to see and do. It turned out to be a pretty spectacular afternoon.
We started by finding lunch at Bridge Street Tap Room, a small bistro-style pub known for its 32 Michigan-made beers on tap. As we got there around 11:30am, it wasn't too crowded and our food came quickly. Great beer (Greenfield's Hefeweizen for me, Cheboygan Blood Orange Honey for John), great food (they had a vegan hummus wrap! Woo!), and a beautiful view. I would recommend it to anyone visiting Charlevoix.
After lunch, we walked along the Pine River connecting Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan. It was beautiful, and rather busy with sailboats, yachts, and jet-skiers. John explained that the drawbridge (part of Bridge Street, where the downtown area is) opens every thirty minutes, so the traffic in the waterway could back up as boaters wait to pass through. I had never seen a live drawbridge before, and I have to say, it was pretty darn cool.
After we reached the lighthouse, we turned and headed back into town to explore, popping in and out of the boutique-style stores as we went. People were everywhere, making it a fun, 'summer days' atmosphere. As John and I both live in an even more tourist-y town, it was fun to 'play fudgie' (local talk for 'be a tourist') somewhere else. We didn't actually buy any fudge or ice cream, but we did check out an old-fashioned candy shop, sampled Michigan-made jams and mustards, and stopped into a little cafe called Harwood Gold, known for their pure maple syrup and homemade granola. We got orange cream soda and ginger kombucha, and sat for awhile to escape the heat. While I am not much for small towns (ironic, given I live in one of the smallest), I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed with Charlevoix and all it had to offer.
I'll admit, there are times when I underestimate Michigan. Most people love living in or visiting the northern part of the state, where they can go hiking, camping, and kayaking in the summer, hunting in the fall, and ice fishing or snowmobiling in the winter. But as I am not a particularly 'outdoorsy' person, I really have a love-hate relationship with living here. To be honest, I'd love to find some sort of "Michigan Native" pride, but I know deep down I'd rather get out and explore elsewhere. On one hand, it's hard once you've traveled to be content in one spot. It just seems so...stagnant. On the other hand, it's always good to come 'home' after you've been away for awhile (hence why I moved back to Michigan after spending four years in Minnesota). So...it goes around in circles. But this weekend - heading to Charlevoix and exploring a brand new town - was a good reminder of the neat things Michigan does have to offer. I got to enjoy great summer weather, have delicious local food and drinks, walk along the lake, and of course spend some time at the beach.
We hung around the beach for an hour or so, wading in up to our knees (it was chilly!), baking in the sun, and watching little kids throw sand at each other and chase around a family of ducks. It was nice to just relax, breathe some fresh air, and get out of [our] town for a bit. With all the changes going on lately and the busy weeks ahead, I definitely enjoyed the afternoon away. Sometimes that's all you need: an afternoon (or even just a few hours) to 'reset' and move ahead with a fresh mentality.
After leaving Charlevoix, John and I headed to Petoskey in search of dinner. We stopped into one of our favorite places, Mitchell Street Pub, a small pub downtown with a cozy atmosphere. Behind the bar, a giant moose head. All along the walls and ceiling, knick-knacks packed into every available space. It's a great place for food, drinks, and of course throwing copious amounts of peanut shells on the floor. They don't have much in the way of vegan food, but there are a few salads and a veggie sandwich on the menu. I would still recommend it to anyone.
Once we'd finished eating, we walked around downtown Petoskey and ended up heading out to the lighthouse there as well (another thing about Michigan: so many lighthouses!). The sky had grown cloudy, blocking the sunset, but we enjoyed walking and talking along the boardwalk. There were a few kids taking turns jumping off to one side while fishermen stood with their poles at the other. It just felt like summer.
All in all, our visit Charlevoix was wonderful. If you're ever in northern Michigan, I would highly recommend stopping for a few hours to check out the restaurants/shops along Bridge Street and of course walk out to the lighthouse. We were only there for around 4 hours - a very quick trip - but it was a great way to end the weekend.